The Best Films of 2022

‘Tis the season to be…deeply infuriated by people’s opinions about films?

Whether it be the fiery debates around the 2022 Sight & Sound list, or the attacks on A.O. Scott of The New York Times for not including Top Gun: Maverick on his “best of 2022 films” list, people on the Internet are treating arbitrary film rankings like deeply personal character attacks. While that is a broad function of social media not specific to film, it pinpoints at an expanding incuriosity in art and entertainment that is fascinating and disturbing. Rather than use critics’ lists as an opportunity to discover films they might not have otherwise, some wear their disinterest as a badge of honor. If filmmakers had that same incuriosity, the films people are fighting about, like Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Citizen Kane, or Top Gun: Maverick, wouldn’t exist.

Art and entertainment, whether you make it or consume it, should be curious. Critics have access to an infinite amount of creative works that grant them meaningful context and broad perspective into excellence. Their access and influence also gives them to ability to raise th profile of a film that might’ve been crowded out of the zeitgeist by broad-spectrum blockbusters. Ultimately, however informed they are, critics’ lists are opinions. Instead of regarding them as being “elitist” or “out of touch,” we should use them as guides into films we have or haven’t seen. Will the average moviegoer see the hundreds of films that critics do each year? No. We can, however, use these lists not as barometers of one’s taste level, but as chances to inspire, entertain, and hopefully inspire more than a passing interest in film as a medium.

In that spirit, I share my own list of the twelve best films (and five honorable mentions) from 2022, in alphabetical order. Many films will be familiar if you’ve followed When Things Go Pop. There are both high-profile blockbusters and smaller, independent films. These are the films that have surprised, challenged, and enthralled me. They made me think about film differently, and they reinforced what I already loved about it. They feature my favorite performances, scripts, direction, production design, and more. If you haven’t seen any of them, I hope you’ll consider checking them out.

The Best Films of 2022

Aftersun

Aftersun challenges you in the best way. With the dynamic duo of Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio in front of her, Charlotte Wells reimagines how a film can present memories. She pushes you beyond the conventional to a unique place where memory might be more than we regularly consider. For Wells, a memory can deepen how one understands their parents, acknowledging and celebrating their complications. It’s not the most intuitive use of memory, which makes Aftersun so special.”

Avatar: The Way of Water

“With The Way of Water, James Cameron reaches an unfathomable new peak. It is the most overwhelmingly beautiful cinematic experience of the year, perhaps of the decade. The film’s shortcomings are easy to forgive or forget when swimming in the oceans and communing with whales. Cameron’s extraordinary vision and unwavering commitment set him apart from the industry, leaping where everyone else skips. The Way of Water is a victory for Cameron, even if it fails to become another record-breaking success.”

The Banshees of Inishiren

“Men would rather cut off their fingers than seek therapy, and The Banshees of Inisherin offers some compelling reasons. Martin McDonagh crafts a tragicomic marvel that explores the extreme lengths we go through not to seek help. His exploration has humor and gravitas, buoyed by the storytelling’s lived-in quality and excellent performances across the board. The film will make you laugh, yes, but it may also push you to rethink your approach to relationships. Perhaps you might find a healthier path that doesn’t require self-dismemberment. It’s an odd qualifier to be one of the year’s best films, but if it helps saves some fingers, so be it.”

The Batman

The Batman isn’t flawless. Most notably, the villains’ potency feels diluted, either because there are too many or they’re not as developed as Batman. However, that might be the point. The film isn’t about the dichotomy of heroism and villainy, or the dangers of superheroes to society, or the deep annals of big-city corruption. The film is about Batman and his ongoing healing, self-actualization, and heroism on his terms. Reeves subtly rejects the cynicism that has defined the character in favor of something human, hopeful, even compassionate towards a character aching for it.”

Bones & All

Bones and All is remarkably focused and comprehensive for a film partially defined by its protagonists’ aimlessness. The film nearly defies genre, weaving through traditionally defined spaces with stunning ease and grace. It certainly earns its body horror credentials, with plenty of flesh-gnawing and blood splashes that will make iron stomachs quiver. With its stunning captures of rural life and landscapes, quiet nights in the woods, and lazy afternoons in diners, it relishes in the road movie tradition.”

Everything Everywhere All at Once

“Walking away from Everything Everywhere All at Once without feeling the least bit changed is impossible. No matter how you connect – its creative direction, its brash blend of genre, its hopeful response to nihilism, Michelle Yeoh – the film feels like a real inflection point in a medium in desperate need of one. It deserves to be a cult classic and a four-quadrant box office smash showered with awards. It deserves to dominate pop culture for the rest of 2022 and remain the delightful gem that we regularly cite as an underrated masterpiece.”

The Fabelmans

The Fabelmans is the clearest expression of Spielberg’s ethos that film shows us who we are and what we need. With this seat behind the camera, his filmmaking feels particularly reflective and urgent. Maybe Spielberg is considering the twilight of his career. Perhaps he sees the shifting winds of film away from art to content and crafted a response. Whatever the provocation, The Fabelmans is an incredibly vital work in the Spielberg canon.”

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

“Imagine seeing Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio and thinking that animation has nothing to offer adults and little to offer children than a pleasing diversion. It is a disservice to art and an insult to audiences’ intelligence to regard animation in such a way. Pinocchio likely couldn’t exist as a live-action project and is infinitely better because it isn’t. Del Toro utilizes every technique to create a startlingly alive film in every sense of the word.”

Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun: Maverick is an inconceivable triumph. The film is a powerful exaltation of one of the greatest stars that Hollywood has ever seen. It houses his best performance in at least a decade and gives Val Kilmer a beautiful moment to shine. It is also one of the best action films released this century, eclipsing the Mission: Impossible franchise to which Cruise has stubbornly attached himself. Maverick exceeds Top Gun in every metric, so much so that it should be detached from the original.”

Tár

“After watching TÁR, it almost feels wrong that Lydia Tár isn’t a fictional character. Cate Blanchett and Todd Field so thoroughly conceive and entrench her in our world that the film feels like a too-soon biopic. Tár should have a thousand online think pieces excoriating or valorizing her or countless fancams spreading on TikTok or Twitter. She’d probably have an Apple Notes-written Instagram post decrying the film’s existence. Sadly, for us, Lydia Tár is not real, but thanks to Blanchett and Field’s exemplary work, her legend will endure.”

Till

Till doesn’t hide from the horrors of Emmett Till’s murder, firmly connecting them to today’s world. However, the film doesn’t mire itself in the misery wrought by his loss. It finds inspiration in Mamie and her unwavering strength and resolve. We see through her eyes the power of unconditional love and how it can change a hateful world. We also see the sobering reality that the work cannot end with one person. Sixty-two years after his murder, Till is the remarkable story he and his mother have always deserved.”

The Woman King

“For all of its thematic and cultural richness, The Woman King is an action-packed historical epic, and Prince-Bythewood further extends her brilliance into that arena. The film’s combat scenes pulsate with power, each attack landing with a resounding, even shocking impact. The first sequence – where the Agojie attack an Ayo outpost that housed kidnapped citizens – is a relentless rush that bears shades of Saving Private Ryan’s legendary opening. Even at its most brutal, the stunt choreography is agile and graceful, almost spellbinding. When the Agojie are in the throes of battle, there’s little room for anything else.” 

Honorable Mentions

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

“Grief changed Wakanda Forever. In most estimations, it shouldn’t work. The loss of T’Challa, of Chadwick Boseman, should be too much for one film to bear. And yet, Wakanda Forever forged ahead by accepting grief and dictating what the inevitable change would look like. The film bears scars from its thematic conflict, ambitious scale, and MCU demands, but it wears them proudly. You cannot help but empathize with the cast and crew’s sacrifices, and feel gratitude that they delivered something startlingly meaningful.”

Bros

Bros largely delivers on its ambition to tread new ground as a major studio-backed queer romantic comedy. Billy Eichner and Nicholas Stoller developed a film that lives within and disrupts the rom-com rules in an unapologetic but accessible way. Even with its weaknesses, it is a strong entry into the canons it seeks to claim and lays a path that other filmmakers can follow with the same level of humor and heart.”

Fresh

Fresh is not a film for everyone. I can imagine people getting past the credits and calling it quits halfway through the following scene. (Again, I haven’t parsed out what it means that I enjoyed it so much.) However, director Mimi Cave cooks up an intoxicating and outrageous experience for the daring viewer, with two unforgettable performances by Sebastian Stan and Mimi Cave at the center. Whatever taste it leaves in your mouth, you won’t forget it anytime soon.”

The Inspection

The Inspection is disinterested in pity. Writer-director Elegance Bratton strives for radical empathy and forceful dignity instead. His script is purposefully opaque about French’s experiences while unhoused and the breakdown of his relationship with Inez. Its absence says it all, without the overwrought and exploitative exposition. He captures French through a dignified lens that acknowledges his pain and struggles but doesn’t wallow in them. Whether he is triumphant or destitute, French’s agency is paramount.”

Women Talking

“‘A radical act of female imagination.’ That is how writer-director Sarah Polley begins her searing yet meditative film about women in a religious colony deciding how to address the systemic sexual abuse they’ve experienced. The film peels back layer after layer of deeply-felt trauma in its surprisingly taut runtime, canvassing the complex and contrasting emotions that accompany generations of psychological and physical brutality. With its brilliant ensemble, script, and direction, Women Talking is an extraordinary examination of women’s agency: how it’s stolen and how it can be reclaimed.”

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